Doing more than recycling

I remember a time (about ten years ago for us), when simply participating in curb-side recycling meant you were an Environmentalist. I felt a certain amount of pride at my accomplishment of going green and felt that recycling, in combination with our vegetarian eating habits and green voting practices, put us on the cutting edge of mainstream environmentalism (i.e. we weren’t living off the grid, but we were doing our part for a better Earth).

If only it were that easy. As TreeHugger points out, the original “R” initiative was Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, with the implicit assumption that people were in fact going to try to reduce their consumption of disposables, packaging, etc., reuse what they couldn’t avoid buying, and recycle the tiny bit that was left. We’re all guilty of this: buy as much plastic packaging as you like, it is, after all, recyclable.

Unfortunately, The Non-Toxic Times points out this month that precious little of that trash is getting recycled. Even after years and years of advocacy and educational programs, we’re still only recycling a tiny fraction of our waste, as follows:

  • Paper (34.2%)
  • Yard Trimmings (13.1%)
  • Food Scraps (11.9%)
  • Plastics (11.8%)
  • Metals (7.6%)
  • Rubber, Leather, and Textiles (7.3%)
  • Glass (5.2%)
  • Wood (5.7%)
  • Other (3.4%)

(For more statistics and information on the short-falls of recycling, see the full article.) That means that out of the 4.5 pounds of waste an average American produces PER DAY, 3 pounds ends up in the landfill. What to do, what to do???? First, let me clarify that I’m not advocating giving up recycling, just suggesting that something additional is in order. The folks at Seventh Generation are advocating for zero waste, which is interesting considering the amount of packaging I have to throw away when I buy their products (less than traditional products, but still plastic wrap that is non-recyclable!).

I’m here to suggest something easy, inexpensive, fun (especially if you like natural science experiments), and very environmentally friendly: composting. Take a second look at the list above; only slightly more than 10% of food scraps and yard waste are being recycled–the rest go in the landfill. You could put 100% of your scraps (if you’re vegetarian, that is) in the compost pile. You could also throw in your dryer lint and non-contaminated paper products (i.e. shredded office paper & paper towels & tissues, but not diapers or toilet paper). Ashes from the fireplace, sawdust from home-improvement projects, and any packaging made from corn or other biodegradable products (think corn starch packing peanuts, if you’re not already taking those to your local shipping store for reuse), can also be added.

While providing step by step instructions for composting is beyond the scope of this post, a quick Google search yielded plenty of how-tos online:

That last link goes into worm composting too, something I’ve never tried but that my father-in-law has done with some success. Although you can have a zero-cost compost pile just by digging a shallow pit somewhere in your yard and piling things on, I have to admit that my favorite low-mess bin that has the added bonus of deterring squirrels, cats, & raccoons, is an enclosed tumbler like this one. I realize this one is spendy, and also that an average gardening family of four would likely need more than one, but it sure is easy and even collects the liquid run-off for compost tea, the best darned plant food on the planet.

Composting, like heirloom tomatoes, cloth diapers, and canning, is an environmentally-sound obsession in this household. Consider trying this easy way to do more than just putting that recycle bin out at the curb once a week…

2 thoughts on “Doing more than recycling

  1. thanks for this. we have a compost bin in our backyard but i haven’t been using it for a while and now it’s just filled with weeds. gah. i need to clean it out and get a fresh start. i was thinking of asking you or nicole for advice. 🙂

  2. A topic near and dear to my heart 🙂 I get so angry with people not recycling. I just don’t get it. When I did the MC course I bought my parents a composting bin, which is making a nice empty yard decoration still, after all these years. Sigh. I wish I knew how to change people’s world view.

    BTW – do you ever read the magazine “Experience life?” May’s issue reminded me of you as it has a ton on environmental toxins and conscious living and all that: http://www.lifetimefitness.com/magazine/index.cfm?strWebAction=editors_letter

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